Ten candidates seeking state seats representing the Fredericksburg area stated their cases at a pair of forums last week as the June 11 primary elections near.

The Fredericksburg and Stafford County branches of the NAACP hosted one forum on Friday, two days after the Fredericksburg Democratic Committee and Young Democrats sponsored the other one.

The candidates are vying for two seats each in the House of Delegates and the Senate.

House District 28

A rematch in the district covering Stafford and Fredericksburg pits former county Board of Supervisors against each other for the Republican nomination.

Joshua Cole, who narrowly lost in 2017 to incumbent Bob Thomas, is the unopposed Democratic candidate.

Like other primary candidates at Friday’s NAACP forum, Thomas and Paul Milde met residents for an hour then presented their backgrounds and stances under two-minute time limits. About 30 people attended the forum.

The Stafford businessman told the crowd he would do what he promises, which he said Thomas hasn’t done. Milde is running as a conservative pro-life, pro-gun candidate, and has said Thomas turned his back on Republicans.

He touted his 12 years as a supervisor, pointing out his work on the Crow’s Nest preservation and transportation during his time as a supervisor, saying he would bring a similar approach as a delegate.

Thomas, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who replaced retired House Speaker Bill Howell, is a Stafford resident and also served on the Board of Supervisors before becoming a delegate. He runs a government contractor software company.

Thomas told the crowd it has been a “whirlwind” two years as a delegate, but that he got plenty of bills passed, on such issues as transportation, education, broadband service and low-income housing.

Cole attended Friday’s event, but since he has no primary opponent, he did not speak at the forum. He laid out his platform during Wednesday’s Democrat forum held in Fredericksburg and attended by about 40 residents.

Wednesday’s forum included opening and closing statements and questions covering such issues as criminal justice inequity, gun control, the economy, mental health and addiction, education and the environment.

Cole, a Stafford resident, told the crowd the upcoming election is important because it can “flip” power to the Democrats in the General Assembly.

That, he said, would allow for changes that align with his focus on raising the minimum wage, funding transportation and ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment, which he criticized Thomas for voting against.

Cole is the Stafford NAACP president and serves on the Greater Fredericksburg Area Interfaith Council and the Stafford superintendent’s Equity, Diversity and Opportunity Committee. Since 2017, he has served as the chief of staff for Del. Kelly Convirs–Fowler.

Senate District 17

Three candidates are vying to topple the current senator representing the district, which includes Fredericksburg and parts of Spotsylvania, Orange County, Louisa and Albemarle counties.

Spotsylvania resident Bryce Reeves has held the seat since 2011. The insurance agent, who served in the U.S. Army and Army Reserve, promotes gun rights, low taxes and small government while opposing Medicaid expansion.

Reeves, who upset Democratic Sen. Edd Houck eight years ago and also ran a failed bid for lieutenant governor in 2017, was the lone candidate not to attend Friday’s forum. His campaign said he was at a conference out of town.

The incumbent, who runs an insurance business with his wife, faces another military veteran in the Republican primary.

His primary opponent is Spotsylvania resident Rich Breeden, a U.S. Air Force veteran with military investigative experience in cybersecurity and terrorism. He is vice president of a government contractor Kingfisher Systems.

Breeden, who is running a pro-life and pro-Second Amendment campaign, told the NAACP forum crowd he is running to end political “divisiveness” and “to bring a voice to everyone.”

He added that he supports term limits, campaign finance reform and ending the gerrymandering of districts.

A pair of Democrats who will face off in the primary spoke during both forums last week.

Amy Laufer, a Wisconsin native and current Albemarle resident, has been a teacher and served on the Charlottesville school board. In 2014, she started Virginia’s List, an organization aimed at supporting female Democrats running for office.

Education is one of her top priorities, Laufer told the crowds. Health care, transportation and broadband access are other key issues she wants to tackle as a senator.

Laufer said she wants to help replace representatives who deny climate change and stand against equal rights, including a woman’s right to choose when it comes to abortion.

Her primary opponent, Ben Hixon, is a Culpeper County resident and computer programmer. He lost his bid for the House of Delegates in 2017, but has said he made a strong bid and thinks he can do so again.

Coming from a “family of teachers,” he makes education one of his top priorities.

He told the Friday crowd there should be more vocational education opportunities in the state, something that can help many people who don’t go to college get good jobs.

Health care, especially reform for addiction and mental health treatment, also is a priority for Hixon.

He also touts his stance to not accept any corporate money for his campaign.

Hixon described himself as a problem solver who wants to get rid of what he sees as divisiveness and bipartisan politics. He also pointed out that as a gay married man, he does not feel represented by Reeves.

Senate District 28

A pair of Democrats are running for the senate seat representing most of Stafford and Fredericksburg.

One candidate is Stafford Supervisor Laura Sellers, a trained social worker who does contract work an a counterintelligence analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Sellers, who lost her supervisors’ seat in 2017, told Friday’s crowd she “builds relationships” and that she would focus on improving funding education and transportation. Health care and internet access also are key tenets of her campaign.

Her opponent is Qasim Rashid, a Stafford attorney, author and human rights activist.

The Pakistan native is running a campaign focused on reforming the criminal justice system, offering Medicare for all people, ratifying the ERA and increasing teacher pay.

He told Friday’s crowd he grew up poor after his family immigrated to the U.S. He experienced how tough life could be and that “things have gotten even worse.”

The Republican incumbent since 2007, Sen. Richard Stuart of Westmoreland, has no primary opponent.

The U.S. Marine Corps veteran’s campaign touts his “conservative leadership” along with his focus on education, transportation and the Chesapeake Bay. He also promotes his support of pro-life and pro-gun issues.

House District 88

The district has had the same House representative since 2002.

The incumbent, Republican Mark Cole of Spotsylvania, has no primary opponent this year.

But he will face a Democratic opponent, which has a pair of candidates.

Stafford resident Kecia S. Evans is one of them.

She told the crowd at the NAACP forum that it is time for a change, that she would “put people before politics.”

Evans, who serves on the county’s Education Advisory Committee and the Parks and Recreation Commission, has 18 years’ experience in criminal justice work and is pursuing a law degree.

Equal rights, criminal justice reform and raising the minimum wage are key factors in her campaign.

Jessica H. “Jess” Foster, a Fauquier County resident and co-owner of a Manassas law firm focused on juvenile defense, also seeks the Democratic primary nod.

Juvenile justice reform is an important issue for Foster, who told the crowd at Wednesday’s forum that she wants to “give a voice to children” as well as minorities and the middle class—the kind of people who often can’t afford high-priced attorneys.

Foster cited equal rights and health care reform as other keys to her campaign. She said Cole has blocked the ERA ratification 11 times.

Cole, a U.S. Navy veteran is the deputy county administrator for Spotsylvania County, is against tax increases and pro-gun and pro-life. His campaign touts his stance against wasteful spending and protecting transportation funding, among other issues.

The general election will be held Nov. 5.

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Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436

sshenk@freelancestar.com

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